Putting a professional spin on my Burning Man experience.
June 26, 2006 1:19 PM   Subscribe

How can I spin my experience so it sounds more professional?

I am trying to switch careers and move into professional event planning. I have tons of experience doing this for my Burning Man theme camp yet I do not want to say outright that a bulk of my event planning, promotion experience is derived from Burning Man due to the stigma(?) surrounding it.

Camp planning and fundraising are a lot of work all of which would be applicable in a professional setting. How do I show them the extent of my experience without them thinking I'm a drugged out hippy raver freak? Unfortunately, our camp name doesn't sound remotely professional. We do toss around a name as a joke that may pass for something less silly, would it be misleading to use that name. And I'm still stuck trying to explain why we throw these events.

Any helps appreciated and I'll invite you all to my blow out party if I land a job in the field.
posted by lannanh to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Use a functional resume and don't name the event. Just give a meaningful description. People do this all the time when they're talking about corporate stuff. "Drew 300 attendees to a national event, using direct email, online marketing, word-of-mouth, advertising, and contact management. Managed accommodation, catering and social activities, with a total budget of $xxxxx." And so on.

Either that, or go after organizations that won't see a stigma.
posted by acoutu at 1:31 PM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

Planning a Burning Man camp is light years from planning a corporate event with a $750K budget. I would strongly suggest against spinning it to sound bigger or more than it was.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:35 PM on June 26, 2006

This is going to be difficult and may not be worth doing (i.e. concealing the Burning M. connection).

Let's say you landed an interview and you were asked to describe your prior experience in detail. If you dodge this question, the chances of getting a job will be greatly reduced. I guarantee any manager worth her salt (and many who aren't) will ask you *where* exactly you worked.

To avoid them thinking you're a drugged out hippy raver freak, don't act or dress like one. Then tell them up front what your roles and responsibilities were. Some event planners may even be impressed with a BMan credential.

The only other alternative I can see is to try to get work through people who know you personally as a non-freak. And references from same, will certainly help.
posted by storybored at 1:35 PM on June 26, 2006

A lot of plenty professional people in the bay area go to burning man, and are aware of the scope of the planning and organization that goes into it. Probably you'll be happier at burner-friendly places anyway..

Are you SURE you're not a drugged out hippie raver freak ("Occupation: Raver"?) :D
posted by aubilenon at 1:36 PM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

On the CV and in the letter be vague like this: "From [date] to [date] I was responsible for the organisation of an established summer festival attended by [number of] people during a week in august [or whenever BM is]. My responsibilities included: contact with external organisations for fundraising purposes, blablabla [add more professional sounding responsibilities - I don't know what you did exactly]." Also mention how many people were working with you: did you have any responibilities that were yours alone? For example contact with one particular outside organisation? Mention that as well.
At the interview they might ask more specifics, but you're there, and they can see that you're fully dressed and not stoned, so it's safe to say that it was Burning Man.
posted by easternblot at 1:37 PM on June 26, 2006

Oh another suggestion would be to do some volunteer fund-raising and event planning to add some non-freaky credits to your resume.
posted by storybored at 1:37 PM on June 26, 2006

I think you start by targeting organizations that don't associate a stigma your Burning Man experience and may actually see it as an asset. At least some of those gigs will appear suitably mainstream, and you can use them to go after a broader range of clients (if that even ends up being necessary).
posted by Good Brain at 1:39 PM on June 26, 2006

It also might make sense if you can gain at least a little experience with more staid or mainstream events. That way during the interview you can say, "Well, yes, I did all that at my Burning Man event, oh, and then later, of course, there was the time I saved the day at the Vanderbilt-Whitney wedding when the Lester Lanin Orchestra was double-booked."

You know and I know that the content of the event is less important than the skills called upon, but employers sometimes do think in the "hippy raver freak" terms you describe. So it can't hurt to demonstrate that you're a hippy raver freak who knows the difference between a finger bowl and an epergne.
posted by La Cieca at 1:45 PM on June 26, 2006

You don't have to be a dentist to organise a dentists' convention. You don't have to be married to be a wedding planner. So you don't have to have corporate experience to organise corporate events.

Like acoutu and easternblot said, your resume doesn't have to be specific about exactly what you organised. Event management is event management - learning a particular industry is easy, learning event management skills is a long process, and having those skills is what an employer (should be) looking for.

Google for different resume formats that don't set out employment history by employer.

And if you get an interview, like storeyboard said, dress and act corporate.

So figure out your transferable skills. Think about why you want to get into corporate events. Address both in your covering letter. And reiterate them in the interview. Think of examples of situations you've handled that translate across all event types that you can talk about in interviews. i.e. not Burning Man specific problems.

And if you don't get the first job, ask for feedback as to why - and focus on addressing those points for your next interview!

Good luck!
posted by bella.bellona at 1:50 PM on June 26, 2006

Seconding Aubilenon. I've hired people I worked with on the BM media team. My most corporate friend (ex-Accenture) got her last two project management gigs through BM friends. I'd be astonished if there isn't already a burner-event-management-crossover community.
posted by rdc at 2:33 PM on June 26, 2006

bella.bellona writes "So you don't have to have corporate experience to organise corporate events"

Verily. But you're not going to instantly hop from one to the other, either.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:30 PM on June 26, 2006

As a serial career-hopper (hey, I get bored easily, what can I say), I beg to disagree with dirtynumbangelboy. A job-specific and skills-related CV, a considered cover letter and a tightly focussed interview can get you jobs you may not be qualified for. As long as you know you can do the job, then go for it.

If you're not confident, then yes, look for interim / transition jobs.
posted by bella.bellona at 5:14 PM on June 26, 2006

There is a lot more contingency planning that would go into organizing something like a Burning Man event than would be necessary for many corporate-type events. Stress your ability to cope with extenuating circumstances, contingency planning, and your skills at dealing with different types of people. If you can handle intoxicated desert ravers in intense heat, you'll be a lot less likely to lose your cool if a corporate liason blows up in your face. Make the difficulties you had in your past experience sound like skills, because they are.
posted by mikeh at 10:41 AM on June 27, 2006

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